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#EvangelicalsSoWhite: The Oscars, Race, and the Church

Jemar Tisby

For the second year in a row, not a single black person garnered a nomination for an Academy Award. Black actors are understandably upset. A mass boycott of the ceremony is being proposed. This should serve as a warning because what’s happening with black people and the Oscars could happen with black people and the evangelical church.


The lack of nominations this year is not for lack of talent or quality. The biopic, Straight Outta Compton, told the gritty but important story of the controversial rap group, NWA, with their extreme lyrics about inner-city life and conflict with law enforcement. The movie, Creed, brought together all the classic elements of drama and sport seen in the original Oscar-winning Rocky movie. Idris Elba once again contributed an engrossing performance in his portrayal of a warlord in Beasts of No Nation. Despite these brilliant works of art, no black actors gained a nomination. The phenomenon has led to an embarrassing hashtag on social media: #OscarsSoWhite.

Part of the issue is representation. Even after adding 432 new members, the Academy remains 93% white and 76% male. The lack of diversity in leadership inevitably affects art appreciation and voting patterns. Looking at the racial composition of the leadership, a corpus with zero black Oscar nominees comes as no surprise.

Two years of non-representation along with a multi-decade struggle for recognition have pushed some black actors to new levels of frustration. “How Is It Possible For The 2nd Consecutive Year All 20 Contenders Under The Actor Category Are White? And Let’s Not Even Get Into The Other Branches. 40 White Actors In 2 Years And No Flava At All. We Can’t Act?!” said Spike Lee, who has already indicated he will boycott the event. Actor and model, Tyrese Gibson called out Chris Rock, who has said he will still serve as emcee for the ceremony, as “lazy” and “afraid.” Even Snoop Dogg came out in support of withdrawing from the Oscars. “What the f— am I going to watch that bulls— for? They ain’t got no n—— nominated. All these great movies and all this great s— ya’ll keep stealing from us. F— you! F— you!”

The most articulate response yet has come from Jada Pinkett-Smith who recorded a brief video issuing a challenge to black actors. “Is it time that people of color recognize how much power and influence we have amassed [so] that we know longer have to ask to be invited anywhere?” she asked. “Maybe it is time that we pull back our resources and we put them back into our communities, into our programs and we make programs for ourselves that acknowledge us in ways that we see fit, that are just as good as the so-called ‘mainstream’ ones.”

As an African American who is part of an overwhelmingly white evangelical denomination, I resonate with the frustration of black actors. Like the Academy, there’s an issue of representation in leadership. In my denomination, black preachers make up just over 1% of the total clergy. Nearly every committee, agency, and institution has a white person sitting in the captain’s chair. Naturally, concerns of minorities, particularly African Americans go unaddressed or misunderstood.

Whites comprise the vast majority of broader evangelicalism, too. According to the Pew Religious Landscape Study, 76% of evangelicals are white, 11% are Hispanic, and 6% are black, a zero percent increase from the study seven years prior. With such a small group of African Americans, it can feel like the concerns of minorities get swallowed up by the issues most pertinent to the majority. But it’s not just that African Americans might not be heard, they are also opposed.

Racial_and_ethnic_composition_among_Evangelical_Protestants (1)

Muted Voices

When I try to bring up certain topics like systemic racism, the backlash is breathtaking. Comments on blog posts or social media show that deep cultural and racial differences still divide the church. After citing some statistics in a Facebook post about perceptions of police brutality between whites and blacks, one commenter wrote, “Why is this even a thing[?] I believe that the acts of police brutality are connected by sin. Pure evil that is moving across this nation…Look at what’s it’s saying, ‘white people this, white people that!’ If they are Christians then they are our brothers. Why are we placing a sense of racism in the midst of our brothers.”

Another commenter chimed in, “Which do we believe, statistics or the Word of God. I’m a white Christian and no one has ever polled me or asked my opinion on this issue. How accurate are statistics, really?” Uniformed responses about race mute the voices of blacks, not only in the culture but in the church as well.

Black people keep trying to share their perspectives as people of color in the United States. We experience a different reality in many ways. From education, to housing, to incarceration, to entertainment, we remain divided by race. The reaction from too many white Christians seems to be, “If it hasn’t happened to me or if I haven’t seen it, then it doesn’t really exist.” Although few would say it outright, the world of whites is construed as normal and the reality of blacks is perceived as exaggerated.

If the insensitivity continues, black Christians, like black actors and the Oscars, may leave majority white evangelical contexts. Recall that separate white and black congregations did not arise because of doctrinal differences. They came about because whites refused to treat blacks as full members of the body of Christ. Richard Allen, who became the founder of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church, formed “Mother Bethel AME” because he was frustrated with the lack of opportunities and unequal treatment blacks received in predominantly white congregations. Allen and scores of other blacks through the centuries have been compelled to form their own congregations because their priorities were ignored and their dignity was denigrated.

In her video, Pinkett-Smith said, “We can no longer beg for the love, acknowledgement, or respect of anyone…Begging for acknowledgement, or even asking for it, diminishes dignity and power. And we are dignified people, and we are powerful. Let’s not forget.” It’s not that black people want to leave our white brothers and sisters. It’s that after being silenced or ignored for so long, we feel like we are begging for significance. We forget the image and likeness of God in ourselves. Sometimes the best option is to form a separate fellowship that affirms one’s identity when others subtly and consistently devalue it.

Scripture makes clear that God is forming a new congregation made of up people from all tribes, languages, people, and nations (Genesis 12:1-3; Isaiah 2:2; Galatians 3:28; Ephesians 2:19-20; Revelation 5:9, 7:9). He has instructed us to pray for his kingdom to come and for his will to be done on earth (Matthew 6:10). For this reason Christians should strive for multi-ethnic congregations that represent the composition of their communities. This is an ideal all believers should struggle for in the power of the Spirit. But it takes labor from people on all sides of the color line. Since white evangelicals are in the majority, they must work hard to hear the concerns and insights of their black brothers and sisters. If white evangelicals fail to embrace black people, we may see another unflattering hashtag: #EvangelicalsSoWhite.

Note: The original post contained an errant reference to the movie Selma which was a 2014 release.

8 thoughts on “#EvangelicalsSoWhite: The Oscars, Race, and the Church

  1. Kennon Wigley

    Jemar, thank you for your continued efforts for reconciliation and unity within the church. You are appreciated! Your ministry through RAAN has been very helpful in awakening me to many issues I was either ignorant of or insensitive to.
    I would like to pass along some suggestions to those seeking to better understand some of the issues of systemic racism, especially within the church. 1. Prayerfully read “Divided by Faith”. It is enlightening and convicting to those in the majority church. 2. Prayerfully read “One New Man” by Jarvis Williams. It is inspiring and hopeful. 3. Consider visiting a majority African American church. 4. Listen carefully to our African American brothers and sisters without trying to rebut what they are saying. 5. Consider going to the LDR conference. It was enlightening for myself and my wife as well as a wonderful time in fellowship.

  2. Nate

    First of all, I want to say I applaud this website and I applaud what you are doing. I am eager for a Reformed Reformation and that would not only benefit but would actually require significant and meaningful contributions from the black community. Please take what I am about to say as a contribution to the discussion not contradiction. Also I am going to use a very broad brush. Please understand that I understand that the issues are far more complicated, but you have to start somewhere.

    It is my perception that if a thing can be interpreted as racist or racially motivated it will be by much of the black community. If a thing can’t be interpreted as racist or racially motivated it will be ignored. For example there are a larger proportion of black academy award winners than percentage of blacks in the U.S. population. The number of black SAG actors and film roles are about equivalent to the percentage of the black population. That is ignored. A year or two of no black nominations to the premium on screen awards and its proof of systemic racism and boycotts are called for! Hey, boycott all you want, I think the academy awards represent nothing more than a bunch of incestuous, self congratulating narcissists, but that is a different subject. Blacks enjoy every level of power and wealth in this country. Again, that is a broad brush statement I know but it is still true. That combined with “micro aggressions” “dog whistle words” “safe spaces” “check your privilege” “hey white people” and on and on and on …. The signal to noise ration is very low to say the least!

    But more importantly, what is it that you want? And I’m not asking for some subjective open-to-interpretation thing like “sensitivity” or “inclusion”. MLK defined his vision well I think with “… content of character rather than color of skin.” What do you want white Christians to do, go to black churches? I don’t know of any reformed black churches near me. If I did I would go there in a heartbeat. I’ve looked! My wife is black and not reformed. Shoot, I’d pay money to have a black reformed church to attend!

    So please don’t me up, I’m not looking for a flame war. I think I share your vision with respect to this website. If I don’t share it completely I am at least sympathetic to it.

  3. Pam


    How? You are a Christian. You should know how to love your neighbor.
    Black folks should not have to tell you how to accept us.

    Pray. Examine your heart. Read your Bible. Hear from God and obey.

    That’s what we all should be doing.

  4. William

    “If the insensitivity continues, black Christians, like black actors and the Oscars, may leave majority white evangelical contexts.”

    I’m fighting hard to avoid this. I can’t escape common truths that drive me to it though. Like, if their was a predominantly black church with predominantly black leadership we aren’t going to see many of our white brothers & sisters being intentional about coming there, & fighting through the challenges to bridge gaps the way we see people of color going to the predominantly white churches and doing these things. Committing to love their brethren and fight lovingly through barriers. It’s the history of too many white Americans to treasure the privileges of being white more then they do the opportunity to love all men in like fashion. Even in the Church. But they will ignore the major facts that point to this to point to the minimal instances that seem to disprove it. As a black male Christian is very frustrating and discouraging. I pray that in spite I will love my family in Christ well

  5. Daniel


    Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. “Pie in the sky when you die” isn’t and has never been the Christian message.


  6. Craig

    Pastor Vincent,

    Not wanting to speak for Jamar here, but is it possible that you may have missed his larger point? A more charitable reading of the piece may reveal that his mention of the Oscars was simply to draw a correlation between how people of color are viewed generally in the world and in the church when it comes to leadership involvement and recognition of place and significance.

    Concerning Dr. VanDrunen—who I am fond of for his work at Westminster—it should be noted that his and others writings adhere to various versions of radical two-kingdom theology. Although in disagreement with his position, I respect it, and only mention it to highlight the fact that one’s understanding of the different interpretive grids with which we see God’s work in the world and in the church will significantly impact how issues of race, class, socioeconomic status, etc. are considered.

    Grace to you,


  7. Ike Hughes


    Thank you for this article and others like it on this site. It is a travesty that the Academy has ignored the contributions of so many fine actors and actresses.

    As a white brother, many of your posts and podcasts cause me the sanctifying pain of searching my heart and seeking to repent of any racism in my life. Please keep up the work you are doing.

    One thing I would ask is, “How?” How do we as white, reformed pastors begin the work in our communities and denominations to change this. You may have addressed this in other posts that I have not dug down to as yet, so the fault may be mine.

    Keep up the good and difficult work.

    God bless,
    Ike Hughes

  8. Larry Vincent

    My brother Tisby, I do not know you but I’m drawn to you because of the word “reformed” in your organization’s name. I’m a white Reformed Baptist pastor who looks forward to heaven with every brother and sister in Christ. May I recommend a book to you? It is David VanDrunen’s “Living in God’s Two Kingdom’s”. My brother, the current racial tensions and plans of the Oscar committees are not worth your time and energy. You prepared to serve a local church as a minister of the Gospel; give yourself to that- leave these other concerns to our King. Respectfully, Larry Vincent

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